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Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

Let’s do a simple thought experiment and answer the following question: Do you think that additional laws from Washington will give you more freedom and more prosperity?

I don’t know how you will answer, but I strongly suspect most Americans will say “no.” Indeed, they’ll probably augment their “no” answers with a few words that wouldn’t be appropriate to repeat in polite company.

That’s because taxpayers instinctively understand that more activity in Washington usually translates into bigger and more expensive government. Or, to be more colloquial, this image summarizes how they view Washington. And the last thing you want is more “action” when you’re on the lower floor.

Sort of like living downwind from the sewage treatment plant.

So what’s the purpose of our thought experiment? Well, new numbers have been released showing that the current Congress is going to set a modern-era record for imposing the fewest new laws.

But while most of us think this is probably good news, Washington insiders are whining and complaining about “diminished productivity” in Congress. The Washington Post, which is the voice of DC’s parasite class, is very disappointed that lawmakers aren’t enacting more taxes, more spending, and more regulation.

…this Congress — which is set to adjourn for the year later this month — has enacted 52 public laws. By comparison, …90 laws were encated during the first year of the 113th Congress and 137 were put in place during the first year of the 111th Congress.

Just in case you don’t have a beltway mindset, another Washington Post report also tells you that fewer laws is a bad thing.

…whatever gets done in December will still be part of a year with record-low congressional accomplishment. …According to congressional records, there have been fewer than 60 public laws enacted in the first 11 months of this year, so below the previous low in legislative output that officials have already declared this first session of the 113th Congress the least productive ever.

Let’s actually look at some evidence. The first session of the current Congress may have been the “least productive” in history when it comes to imposing new laws, but what’s the actual result?

Well, there are probably many ways this could be measured, but one of the most obvious benchmarks is the federal budget.

And it appears that “record-low congressional accomplishment” translates into a smaller burden of government spending.

Indeed, government spending actually has declined for two consecutive years. That hasn’t happened since the 1950s.

And it’s worth reminding people that you begin to solve the symptom of red ink when you address the underlying disease of too much spending. That’s why the deficit has fallen by almost 50 percent in the past two years.

Interestingly, the Washington Post accidentally confirms that you get better policy when you have fewer news laws.

In 1995, when the newly empowered GOP congressional majority confronted the Clinton administration, 88 laws were enacted, the record low in the post-World War II era.

Needless to say, the author isn’t saying that we got good policy because there were a “record low” number of laws in 1995. But if we look at fiscal policy during that period, that’s when we began a multi-year period of spending restraint that led to budget surpluses.

In other words, we should be very grateful for “unproductive” politicians.

Now for some caveats.

It’s obviously a gross over-simplification to assert that the number of laws is correlated with good policy or bad policy. Sometimes politicians impose laws that increase the burden of government (with Obamacare being an obvious example).

But sometimes they enact laws that increase economic liberty and reduce government (with the sequester being a good example, even though very few politicians actually wanted that result).

To conclude, the message of this post is that we shouldn’t worry about “diminished productivity” in Washington if it means fewer bad laws.

That being said, we’ll never fix a corrupt tax code or reform bankrupt entitlement programs unless there are new laws to replace old laws that created bad policy.

P.S. Since we’re talking about low productivity in Washington, there’s good evidence that bureaucrats don’t work very hard compared to workers in the economy’s productive sector. But that’s probably a good thing. After all, do we want bureaucrats (like this one) being more diligent? That’s why we should focus on reducing their excessive compensation rather than encouraging them to put in a full day’s work.

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I have great sympathy for almost all segments of the population that have been disadvantaged by Obamacare.

Among the victims are many relatively powerless people, including children, low-income workers, and retirees.

It’s equally tragic that millions of families – notwithstanding the President’s oft-repeated promise – already have lost their insurance plans, and it’s a crisis that this number could swell to more than 50 million over the next year.

And taxpayers, needless to say, are going to incur heavy burdens because of the President’s reckless new entitlement.

Heck, compared to all these groups, the unfortunate people who merely had to endure the “third world experience” of the Obamacare website should consider themselves lucky.

Yet even though I am brimming with empathy for the victims of Obamacare, there is one group that is suffering and I can say without hesitation or reservation that the people affected don’t tug on my heart strings or engender feelings of sympathy.

I’m referring to the staffers on Capitol Hill. According to a Politico story, some of these folks are having to pay more thanks to the President’s scheme to expand government’s control over the healthcare system. Here are the key excerpts.

Veteran House Democratic aides are sick over the insurance prices they’ll pay under Obamacare, and they’re scrambling to find a cure. “In a shock to the system, the older staff in my office (folks over 59) have now found out their personal health insurance costs (even with the government contribution) have gone up 3-4 times what they were paying before,” Minh Ta, chief of staff to Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), wrote to fellow Democratic chiefs of staff… In the email, Ta noted that older congressional staffs may leave their jobs because of the change to their health insurance.

Oh no, they might leave? Perish the thought! Surely they have more money to waste, more regulations to impose, and higher taxes to approve.

You may detect a slight tone of sarcasm in my remarks, but that’s for a good reason. First of all, many of these staffers are only in an unpleasant situation because their bosses voted for Obamacare. If they want to complain, perhaps they should schedule a meeting with the power-hungry politicians that caused the mess in the first place.

Second, I have a hard time feeling much empathy for these people when the Obama Administration already has arbitrarily and illegally altered the law so that taxpayers will cover 75 percent of their health insurance expenditures. I realize there’s an entitlement mentality in Washington, but you would think these people would have some sense of shame!

Let’s finish by enjoying some new cartoons. Here’s one from Gary Varvel on the economic burden of Obamacare, which appeals to me for obvious reasons.

Nov 2013 Obamacare Economy Cartoon

By the way, if you like the Aflac duck and the GEICO gecko, here’s another Varvel cartoon you’ll appreciate.

Now we have a Bob Gorrell cartoon that starkly exposes the President’s illegal changes to Obamacare.

Nov 2013 Obamacare Constitution Cartoon

In other words, this bit of satire turned out to be reality.

Nate Beeler has a very good cartoon that captures Obama’s disdain for the suffering of ordinary people.

Nov 2013 Obamacare Lifesaver Cartoon

It fits in well with the Ramirez cartoon in this post.

Then we have Jerry Holbert showing a way to really punish Iran.

Nov 2013 Obamacare Iran Cartoon

Sort of like what Rand Paul said (quoting me!) about Syria.

Last but not least, here’s another Varvel cartoon that sums up what Obama staffers are trying to do.

Nov 2013 Obamacare Humpty Dumpty Cartoon

Surprisingly, this is only the second time I can recall sharing a cartoon featuring Humpty Dumpty.

But don’t laugh too hard at these cartoons. Obama may get the last laugh if he can survive the short-run political damage and create more long-run government dependency.

P.S. Actually, the title of this post is wrong. There is a group of people in America who don’t like Obamacare and – believe it or not – they are even less deserving of sympathy than the army of staffers on Capitol Hill.

P.P.S. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that politicians don’t deal with this issue by re-hiring the taxpayer-financed “grief counselors” who were used to console Democratic staffers after the 2010 elections.

P.P.P.S. Here’s a very funny parody video about the Obamacare disaster.

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Regular readers know that Washington is a very sleazy city. Just as rats and cockroaches are attracted to a dumpster, con artists and fraudsters are attracted to big government.

A bloated budget means many opportunities to get unearned wealth by being politically well connected. A loophole-ridden, 72,000-page tax code creates a sandbox for lobbyists. And special interest groups view Washington’s massive regulatory apparatus the way pigs view a mudbath.

You won’t be surprised to learn that politicians figure out how to get a cut of the action. Here are a few of the sordid details from a report in the Washington Post.

73 members of Congress…have sponsored or co-sponsored legislation in recent years that could benefit businesses or industries in which either they or their family members are involved or invested, according to a Washington Post analysis. The findings emerge from an examination by The Post of financial disclosure forms and public records for all 535 members of the House and Senate. The practice is both legal and permitted under the ethics rules that Congress has written for itself, which allow lawmakers to take actions that benefit themselves or their families except when they are the lone beneficiaries.

To be fair, the actions identified by the Washington Post are not necessarily immoral. A politician who supports a lower capital gains tax rate, for instance, presumably will benefit directly because of less double taxation on his investments and indirectly because of more prosperity.

I don’t view that as wrong. Indeed, the lawmakers use this kind of excuse to justify their behavior.

The legislators, in interviews and through spokesmen, said they saw no conflicts between their legislative actions and holdings. They added that they have a duty to advocate for their constituents, even when those interests align with their own.

But just because they use that excuse, that doesn’t mean their behavior is appropriate. There’s a simple way to determine what’s wrong, immoral, and corrupt.

If politicians take steps that enable everyone – including themselves – to keep more of their own money (or to earn additional money), that’s fine.

If they do something that enables anybody – including themselves – to take money or value from other people, that’s wrong.

Here’s my video explaining the connection between big government and corruption.

The moral of the story shouldn’t be that difficult to understand. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you, which is one of the rules of libertarianism that we hopefully learn in kindergarten (to see the rest of the rules, see the David Boaz quote in this post about Obama’s socialism-for-kids proposal).

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Although this line is attributed to many people, Wikiquote says that Gideon Tucker was the first to warn us that “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

This cartoon about Keynesian economics sort of makes the same point, but not with the same eloquence.

But that’s not the point of this post. Instead, I want to focus on this grossly misleading headline in USA Today: “This Congress could be least productive since 1947.”

I don’t think it’s a case of media bias or inaccuracy, as we saw with the AP story on poverty, the Brian Ross Tea Party slur, or the Reuters report on job creation and so-called stimulus.

But it does blindly assume that it is productive to impose more laws. Was it productive to enact Obamacare? What about the faux stimulus? Or the Dodd-Frank bailout bill?

Wouldn’t the headline be more accurate if it read, “This Congress could be least destructive since 1947″?

Here are the relevant parts of the USA Today report.

Congress is on pace to make history with the least productive legislative year in the post World War II era. Just 61 bills have become law to date in 2012 out of 3,914 bills that have been introduced by lawmakers, or less than 2% of all proposed laws, according to a USA TODAY analysis of records since 1947 kept by the U.S. House Clerk’s office. In 2011, after Republicans took control of the U.S. House, Congress passed just 90 bills into law. The only other year in which Congress failed to pass at least 125 laws was 1995. …When Democrats controlled both chambers during the 111th Congress, 258 laws were enacted in 2010 and 125 in 2009, including President Obama’s health care law.

To be sure, not all legislation is bad. Now that the Supreme Court has failed in its job, Congress would have to enact a law to repeal Obamacare. Laws also would need to be changed to reform entitlements, or adopt a flat tax.

And some laws are benign, such as the enactment of Dairy Goat Awareness Week or naming a federal courthouse.

But I’m guessing that the vast majority of substantive laws are bad for freedom and result in less prosperity.

So let’s cross our fingers that future Congresses are even less productive (and therefore less destructive) than the current one.

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I’ve written before about the sleazy and corrupting impact of earmarks.

And I’ve debunked the lobbyist arguments in favor of earmarks.

Heck, I’ve even done NPR interviews about this unseemly Washington practice.

So I like to think I’m reasonably knowledgeable about the system. But even I’m shocked to learn how a former Massachusetts Congressman has taken graft to the next level.

And I’m slightly happy that he’s been caught with his hand in the cookie jar and feels compelled to give up his share of the loot.

Here are some excerpts from a report in the New York Times.

A former congressman who became a lobbyist has abandoned his plans to collect $90,000 from working on an energy project that he helped finance through Congress. …An apologetic Mr. Delahunt told town officials he wanted to eliminate the “black mark” created by questions of a possible financial conflict, Patrick Cannon, chairman of the Hull Light Board, said on Saturday. …Mr. Delahunt, a Democrat who retired from Congress last year, had faced criticism for the last week from legal and ethics specialists over the unusual lobbying arrangement he had struck with the town, which is seeking federal help to build an offshore wind energy plant at a cost of more than $60 million. While in Congress, Mr. Delahunt earmarked $1.7 million for the same project, and he was to be paid 80 percent of his monthly consulting fees out of that same pot of money. …Mr. Delahunt and executives at his firm did not respond to e-mails Saturday seeking further comment on the decision.

Wow. For all intents and purposes, Congressman Delahunt directly pilfered the Treasury for personal gain.

This is amazing. But what’s remarkable isn’t that he stole money. After all, the federal budget is largely a big scam enabling various groups of people to obtain unearned loot.

The noteworthy thing about this story is that he didn’t launder the money.

In most cases, politicians do earmarks as part of a corrupt quid pro quo. They direct money to a certain group of beneficiaries and, in exchange, get campaign contributions from both the lobbyists who facilitated the deal and the interest groups that receive the taxpayer funds.

But Delahunt cut out one of the middlemen. He created an earmark, and then became one of the lobbyists pocketing the cash.

So it is poetic justice that this unsavory deal has become public knowledge and the former Congressman has been shamed into giving up his fees.

But don’t be deluded into thinking this is a victory.

The earmark is still there. Money is still being wasted. Delahunt is still a lobbyist. Government is still too big. And corruption is still rampant.

And if you think the former Congressman is genuinely apologetic….well, please get in touch with me. I’m selling a bridge in Brooklyn and need a gullible buyer – i.e., the kind of person who doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with this unseemly example of sleaze.

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If you want to know why Washington is a cesspool of corruption and graft, you should read this story from the Washington Post about how Capitol Hill staffers use their positions as stepping stones to jobs in the lobbying community.

Nearly 5,400 former congressional staffers have left Capitol Hill to become federal lobbyists in the past 10 years, according to a new study that documents the extent of the revolving door between Congress and K Street. The data published by the online disclosure site LegiStorm found close to 400 former U.S. lawmakers also have made the jump to lobbying. The report…underscores the symbiotic relationship: Thousands of lobbyists are able to exploit experience and connections gleaned from working inside the legislative process, and lawmakers find in lobbyists a ready pool of experienced talent. …The study also documents the reverse movement, finding 605 former lobbyists who have taken jobs working for lawmakers in the past decade. …About 14,000 people work on the Hill, and about 11,700 people are registered to lobby this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

If this sounds like sleaze, that’s because it is. It’s a story about how the political class has created a system that loots the American public and enables the well-connected to skim a good share of the booty.

I explained in a previous post that some of the most despicable people in Washington are Republicans, but this story gives me an opportunity to elaborate.

What happens is that idealistic people come to Washington to work for Congress (also, because they get elected to Congress). They earn good salaries, considerably above the average for the U.S. economy.

But if they want to make big money – and if they have weak morals and an absence of character, they are drawn to the lobbying community.

I have known dozens of good people over the years who have been corrupted by this process. They came to Washington to do good, and they wound up doing well instead.

They began their careers thinking Washington is a cesspool, and they eventually decided it’s a hot tub.

The only solution to this problem is to shrink the size and scope of government, as I explain in this video.

And if we shrink the burden of government, we can return to the good ol’ days when each member of Congress could do their job with 2 or 3 staffers rather than 20 or 30.

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When existing spending authority expires on March 4, the “non-essential” parts of the federal government will shut down unless Republicans and Democrats reach an agreement. This is causing lots of agitation in Washington, both by Democrats who don’t want the money spigots in the off position and Republicans who fret that they will be blamed for (gasp) gridlock.

I have a new piece at National Review that explains how the GOP can win this fight. Indeed, I explain that Republicans actually did a pretty good job during the 1995 fight, even though they now have negative memories of the experience. This excerpt provides my basic assessment, but the full article has lots of additional information, including quotes from news accounts in 1995 showing that the GOP held the upper hand, as well as four specific recommendation of how advocates of limited government can do even better this year.

With the GOP-led House and the Democratic Senate and White House far apart on a measure to pay the federal government’s bills past March 4, Washington is rumbling toward a repeat of the 1995 government-shutdown fight (actually two shutdown fights, one in mid-November of that year and the other in mid-December). This makes some Republicans nervous. They think Bill Clinton “won” the blame game that year, and they’re afraid they will get the short end of the stick if there is a 1995-type impasse this year. A timid approach, though, is a recipe for failure. It means that President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can sit on their hands, make zero concessions, and wait for the GOP to surrender any time a deadline approaches. In other words, budget hawks in the House have no choice. They have to fight. But they can take comfort in the fact that this is not a suicide mission. The conventional wisdom about what happened in November of 1995 is very misleading. Republicans certainly did not suffer at the polls. They lost only nine House seats, a relatively trivial number after a net gain of 54 in 1994. They actually added to their majority in the Senate, picking up two seats in the 1996 cycle. More important, they succeeded in dramatically reducing the growth of federal spending. They did not get everything they wanted, to be sure, but government spending grew by just 2.9 percent during the first four years of GOP control, helping to turn a $164 billion deficit in 1995 into a $126 billion surplus in 1999. And they enacted a big tax cut in 1997. If that’s what happens when Republicans are defeated, I hope the GOP loses again this year.

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I saw a story linked on Instapundit, but it really belonged on The Onion.

Apparently, our tax dollars are being used to fund grief counseling for congressional staffers who will lose their jobs in January because of the elections. Can you think of a better example than this of how Washington is screwed up?

This isn’t just a symbol of fiscal excess (though it definitely belongs in that category). It’s also a sign of the wuss-ification (not a technical term, but you know what I mean) of American society. Are we really so pathetically fragile that we need professional hand-holders for something like this? It’s not like people who work on Capitol Hill don’t know ahead of time about elections.

Besides, there’s a what-goes-around-comes-around element to this story. I’m not trying to be callous. Unemployment can be a terrible thing, particularly for people who have kids. But these congressional staffers spent their days figuring out ways to impose costs on the rest of us. They schemed to reduce our freedoms and take our money. These are people who pushed policies that resulted in job losses for millions of people in the productive sector of the economy.

Asking me to feel sorry for these people is like asking me to have pity on burglars who dislike door locks, alarm systems, and armed homeowners.

Here’s an excerpt from the Politico story.

A staffer for a congressional Democrat who came up short on Tuesday reports that a team of about five people stopped by their offices this morning to talk about payroll, benefits, writing a résumé, and so forth, with staffers who are now job hunting. But one of the staffers was described as a “counselor” to help with the emotional aspect of the loss — and a section in the packet each staffer was given dealt with the stages of grief (for instance, Stage One being anger, and so on). “It was like it was about death,” the staffer said. “It was bizarre.”

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There’s been a bit of buzz about a recent story in Politico revealing a huge increase in the number of congressional staff receiving six-figure salaries.  Some of the details are eye-openers, including a 39 percent increase in the past four years in the number of staffers earning at least $163,358:

Nearly 2,000 House of Representatives staffers pulled down six-figure salaries in 2009, including 43 staffers who earned the maximum $172,500 — or more than three times the median U.S. household income. …But while these top earners are a small percentage of the overall congressional work force, their numbers are growing at a rapid rate under the Democratic Congress. The number of staffers earning within the upper 3 percent of House salaries — currently $163,358 or more — has increased by nearly 39 percent in the past four years, according to LegiStorm data. …“These are people who could be making a lot more money in the private sector, but they choose to work here,” said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly, who also makes $172,500. …There are approximately 10,000 House staffers, including district office workers, according to the chief administrative officer.

Even though I’m a former Hill staffer, I’m certainly not going to defend these salaries (especially since I was nowhere near the top of the pay structure!). But excessive pay is actually a secondary problem. The real issue is the explosion in the number of staff. The image below, taken from a 1993 congressional report, shows the increase in the number of staff for each member of the House of Representatives. This doesn’t include, incidentally, the increase in committee staff and the growth in auxiliary institutions such as the Congressional Budget Office (the folks who just told us that a giant new entitlement program would reduce red ink).

It’s a chicken-and-egg issue whether this bloated congressional staff structure is a result of bigger government, or whether it contributes to bigger government. In either case, it would be a good idea to go back to the number of staff — and size of government — we had in the past.

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Someboy sent me a link to this American Thinker article, which includes the following word cloud of a Pew Research Center poll on the “One word that best describes your impression of Congress.” Enjoy.

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A story in Politico reveals that politicians are increasing the budget for Congress by 5.8 percent in the 2010 fiscal year. This is on top of a 10.9 percent funding increase from last year to this year. But the really disturbing number is that it will cost taxpayers $4.7 billion overall to keep the 535 politicians on Capitol Hill on the gravy train:

Congress is on the verge of giving itself a bump in its annual budget — even as local governments, families and businesses across the country are tightening their belts in the worst recession in decades. Under a House-Senate conference measure, approved by the House last week and poised for passage in the Senate on Wednesday, spending for the legislative branch will increase 5.8 percent this year, boosting Capitol Hill’s annual budget to $4.7 billion. The measure includes a hodgepodge of new funding for lawmakers: a $500,000 pilot program for senators to send out postcards about their town hall meetings, $30,000 for receptions for foreign dignitaries and $4 million for consultants — with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) getting up to nine each and Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) getting up to three more. …Supporters of the bill argue that they were relatively frugal this year. Last year, Congress increased its funding 10.9 percent over the fiscal 2008 level — and the $4.7 it’s appropriating to itself this year is less than the $5 billion Obama set forth in his budget earlier this year. …The Senate Appropriations Committee — where McConnell and 29 other appropriators sit — voted 30-0 in June to send the bill to the full Senate, which approved the bill in July by a 67-25 vote.

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The burden of government spending has skyrocketed during the Bush-Obama years. Many politicians claim that all this new spending represents necessary “investments” to boost economic growth. But as this new video explains, both cross-country comparisons and empirical analysis suggest government is far too big – not only in Europe, but also in America.

This is the second of a two-part series. The first installment, which focuses on eight theoretical reasons why excessive government undermines growth, can be viewed here.

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John Fund explains in the Wall Street Journal that many politicians not only take vacations at our expense, but also line their pockets with taxpayer-provided per-diem allowance. The problem apparently has gotten worse since the Democrats took over, but this is a bipartisan problem. The longer people stay in Washington, the more corrupted they become:

The total cost for congressional overseas travel is never made public because the price tag for State Department advance teams and military planes used by lawmakers are folded into much larger budgets. Members of Congress must only report the total per diem reimbursements they receive in cash for hotels, meals and local transport. They don’t have to itemize expenses—a convenient arrangement since most costs are covered by the government or local hosts. Some trips subtract some hotel and meal costs from the per diems, others do not. “The policy is completely inconsistent,” one House member told me. Total per diem allowances (per person, including staff) can top $3,000 for a single trip. Unused funds are supposed to be given back to the government, but congressional records show that rarely happens. …The House’s official handbook requires that lawmakers use regular U.S. airlines “whenever possible, unless such service is not reasonably available.” But congressional records show members routinely take military planes to London, Paris and other well-served locales. Members can fly for free with their spouses on military aircraft.

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I have no objection to extravagent consumption so long as people are spending their own money. But when elitists in Washington want to enjoy “lifestyles of the rich and famous” by using our money, that is an outrage. Politicians already get to vote themselves hefty salaries and gold-plated benefit packages. They already pass laws and exempt themselves. Is it too much to ask that they fly commercial aircraft when going on their junkets? Heck, maybe if they had to deal with the mindless bureaucrats at the TSA, we might get some common-sense reforms so that going to the airport was not like a visit to the motor vehicles department. Rollcall.com has the story:

Last year, lawmakers excoriated the CEOs of the Big Three automakers for traveling to Washington, D.C., by private jet to attend a hearing about a possible bailout of their companies. But apparently Congress is not philosophically averse to private air travel: At the end of July, the House approved nearly $200 million for the Air Force to buy three elite Gulfstream jets for ferrying top government officials and Members of Congress. …The Gulfstream G550 is a luxury business jet, which the company advertises as featuring long-range flight capacity that “easily links Washington, D.C., with Dubai, London with Singapore and Tokyo with Paris.” The company’s promotional materials say, “The cabin aboard the G550 combines productivity with exceptional comfort. It features up to four distinct living areas, three temperature zones, a choice of 12 floor plan configurations with seating for up to 18 passengers.”

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